Musical tells the story of civil-rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer

It’s no exaggeration to say that 2020 has seen a lot of change. But in a year marked by a global pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, and a presidential election in which the very act of voting seemed to be in jeopardy, Pittsburgh theater maker Montese Freeland notices an unexpected and venerable name popping up on social media: that of Fannie Lou. Hummer.

Among young people, the famous black civil rights-era suffrage champion was “becoming an icon in a new way,” Freeland said.

When Pittsburgh voters elected Rep. Ed Gainey as mayor in the 2021 Democratic primary, confident he would be the first black man to serve, Freeland was more convinced than ever that the time had come. Did. He “felt like the perfect opportunity to cheer up Fannie Lou Hammer.”

His vehicle is Fanny: The Music and Life of Fanny Lou Hammer, a 2021 stage musical by playwright Cheryl L. West. Accompanied by live music, the one-woman production stars Robin McGee as Hammer and delivers songs and monologues about her life.

Co-artistic director of the City Theater, Freeland has teamed up with the August Wilson African American Cultural Center and Pittsburgh’s Demascus Theater Collective to bring the show to town. The production was produced in partnership with Kenny Leung’s True Colors Theater Company in Atlanta and the Louisville Actors Theater in Kentucky.

“Funny” premieres in Pittsburgh in August at the Wilson Center for five performances from Friday, January 13 through Monday, January 16.

Hummer rose to prominence from the most humble of circumstances. The youngest of his 20 children from a sharecropping family in Mississippi didn’t start acting until he was in his mid-40s. But she quickly became one of the movement’s most effective speakers and organizers, despite police beatings and other reprisals. She is best known for her defiant televised speech at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, denouncing voter suppression and state-sanctioned violence in Mississippi.

“This woman was in sixth grade and had been a sharecropper all her life. [and] We restricted access to reading until she made changes,” said Joy Vandervoort-Cobb, the show’s director. “So change is always possible.”

Hammer’s legacy has long been overlooked in favor of male leaders who have traditionally dominated accounts of the civil rights movement, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. .

“What this woman has gone through and what she has done is just one person and it is amazing,” added Vandervcort-Cobb. “It’s a reminder that you have no right to be tired.”

She describes “Fannie” as a fast-paced, 72-minute show filled with civil rights songs and spirituals like “This Little Light of Mine.”

According to Freeland, the piece is, among other things, an opportunity to tell audiences who can’t remember Hamer’s legacy. It’s been featured extensively in the news.

“The song goes on and on. We sing the same song today about voting rights,” he said. “This play is a reminder that we must not be idle. We cannot sit still.”

Find out more about the show here.

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